A Cultural Journey to the Year of Monkey

2016-02-09 18:20:06 | From:http://english.cri.cn/12394/2016/02/09/2941s916380.htm

China issues 2016 commemorative coins in Zhengzhou, Henan province on December 24, 2015. [File Photo: Chinanews.com]

The just arrived Chinese Lunar New Year officially kicks off the Year of Monkey - the ninth sign of the 12-year cycle of the Chinese zodiac.

According to tradition, it's believed those born in a particular year display the characteristics of the animal associated with it.

The Chinese zodiac consists of 12 animal signs based on a twelve-year cycle, each year related to an animal sign.

In common with all the twelve animals - namely the rat, ox, tiger, rabbit, dragon, snake, horse, goat, monkey, rooster, dog and pig - the monkey has its own unique characteristics:

Everyone born in a monkey zodiac year has their own idea of how it affects their personalities and feelings.

"I think people born in monkey years are witty, smart, but sometimes a little short-tempered."

"I've experienced 6 monkey years. I have the personal feeling that monkey years are usually more prosperous than other zodiac years."

"People tend to rush to have monkey babies. It means fiercer competition for their generations."

While each may have their own interpretation of their zodiac year, Zhang Ying, Director of Gaobeidian Chinese Folk Culture Classes in Beijing explains the reason monkeys are endowed with so many good characteristics is because, of all the animals, monkeys are the most similar to human beings:

"Monkeys are close to humans and people tend to favor them. In fact, people endow Monkeys with their own feelings and attitudes towards life. They also pass judgment on monkeys. Those judgments, whether it's positive or negative, are in fact made towards people themselves."

With so many positive meanings and expectations, the monkey has become a common icon in China and is represented in many cultural works.

Perhaps the most well-known monkey is Sun Wukong, also known as the Monkey King in "Journey to the West", one of the Four Great Classical Novels of the Chinese literature.

The novel depicts a monkey born out of a stone, and who acquires super powers.

The rebellious monkey made a lot of mischief even in the heavenly palace, but later on has a change of heart, and accompanies the monk Xuanzang on a journey to the west to introduce Buddhist sutras to the oriental lands.

Various monkey images are also to be found in other works such as sculptures, paper-cutting and stamps.

For instance, China Post released its first set of Chinese zodiac stamps in 1980, a Year of the Monkey.

The stamps, designed by artist Huang Yongyu, kicked off the tradition of releasing stamps featuring one of the 12 zodiac animals before every Spring Festival.

This January, the postal service released its fourth set of monkey stamps to embrace the Monkey Year.

The designer behind those stamps was once again Huang Yongyu, who is now a venerable 92 years old.

Tang Qian is an avid enthusiast of the Chinese zodiac.

He says he has both sets of stamps:

"My son was born in 1980, the Year of Monkey. He was the only child in my family due to the family planning policy at the time. I bought the first set of monkey stamps to celebrate his birth. Now, 36 years later, I bought him the fourth set. It's quite meaningful as our country has eased the family planning policy and a couple is allowed to have two kids."

Traditionally, Chinese zodiac has served as one of the basics for the literary training of children because it conveys meanings through a combination of vivid pictures and words.

However, due to the weakening of old traditions, and increasing foreign influences, zodiac culture has lost much of its meaning today.

Director Zhang Ying says he believes this Monkey Year could be a turning point in reviving China's zodiac culture:

"…The zodiac culture is gradually blending with the Spring Festival culture. The celebrations and festivities of the Spring Festival will help to promote zodiac culture. Conversely, the zodiac culture can enrich the Spring Festival culture too."

So, why not try learning more about traditional Chinese Zodiac culture, besides the western horoscope?

For CRI, I'm Wang Mengzhen.

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